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5 disadvantages of email

5 disadvantages of email

Jonathan Davies


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5 mins read

Fri, Oct 16, '20  

Raise your hand if you’ve ever had an overwhelming amount of emails.

Yup, that’s what I thought, you didn’t raise your hand because your audience is a screen. Fair enough, luckily there’s no need to count raised hands to know 121 business emails are sent and received each day per account.

This means of communication has certainly revolutionized the way we work since its invention in 1971. It changed the game by offering a fast and effective vessel ideal for sharing certain information. Especially useful for when it comes to having an official written trail, or communicating with outside parties. 

But when it comes to internal communications and building engagement and a strong culture, email just doesn't cut it anymore. 

1. Emails create information silos

There’s that email from a potential client you must answer, and those seven newsletters you keep meaning to unsubscribe from, and of course that email from your boss, and then the one from your mom about Thanksgiving, with all your aunts and uncles CCed (how did that get in your work inbox?!). And those are just the ones you managed to get a glimpse of. 

There are more, many more. Some with crucial information that actually helps you get your job done. Some that could save you heaps of time. Some that will forever be lost in your inbox, buried in the spam folder. 

Email’s restrictive format makes for distortion of communications and reduces access to information, and these information silos lead to increased costs and lack of synergy. 

2. An obstacle to employee engagement 

Formal barriers between colleagues and strict hierarchies are out. Transparency, collaboration, and engagement are in. Can I get a high five? … tough crowd.  

39% of employees believe that people in their own organization don’t collaborate enough. One of the culprits being email not facilitating the productive engagement we want to see in the workplace. Its limiting ways of composition, reply-all function, and lack of editing possibilities once the information is out, can restrict the opportunities for colleagues to learn from each other and share knowledge. The New York Times states there is a universally despised office culture of replies, forwards and mass CCs and “looping in” and “circling back." The stress and pressure to immediately respond lead users to disengage with this channel of communication. 

3. Overflowing inboxes — the ones that cause anxiety 

Was that bit about 121 emails a day already mentioned? What about the number of total worldwide emails sent and received per day in 2019? Were you wondering about that? The answer is a whooping  246.5 billion. That translates to countless full mailboxes.

Maybe you remember the graphic that went viral in 2015:

Regardless of how many unopened emails you have, this image is relatable. In the business world there is no escaping the mailbox. Receiving additional mail isn’t as exciting as it was for Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. And those emails piling up easily become overwhelming and a threat to efficiency.

4. Lack of security 

Congratulations! You’ve just won a billion dollars and free ice-cream for life, click here to collect. Except please don’t click if your inbox offers you anything of the likes. Cyber villains love embedding malware disguised as either inoffensive looking or to-good-to-be-true messages.

Email also isn't particularly secure when it comes to protecting information. Think of clients' bank account details or personal data. Being hacked is a big risk to take when it comes to this type of information. Similarly, when it comes to internal communications you want to avoid emailing John - the freelance graphics designer who sometimes also works for a competitor - instead of John, the CMO. 

5. Reduced visibility

Don’t you just love those email chains so long your index starts aching from scrolling all the way down? It’s no surprise that one important sentence buried in an email thread never actually got read. 

And then there’s the question of finding that information once it’s been sent and received. The email search function isn’t always optimal for finding what you’re looking for. You may not be able to find that vital report attached in an email sent a few weeks back, similarly your colleague may not be able to relocate those detailed instructions you wrote about completing a critical article on email communication. 

So...how to resolve all these email flops?

Two words: messenger pigeons. 

However those aren’t so easy to come by nowadays, but there are other ways to enhance productivity, collaboration and transparency. 

It’s all about finding a balance and what works for your company, your people, and your culture. What functions for a startup of 20 people won’t be the answer for a large corporation working across different time zones. The key is finding the right communication tools that are aligned with your best interests: productive and happy employees. 

Gatehouse’s State of the Sector found that 91% of users in 2020 deemed email as “not particularly effective.” Perhaps the remaining 9% still live in 1971 and ignored the email about times that are a-changin. Because yes, times certainly are changing – so adapting to the new norm is paramount for any effective Internal Comms strategy. We’ve seen all types of new productivity tools and softwares, progressing social norms within the workplace, and innovative ways of designing the workplace with free beer and treadmill desks. Hand in hand with this revolution comes the movement to make employees happy and productive.

Email is an efficient tool for many endeavours, and hats off if you’ve managed to neatly organize all your emails in folders. Doubly so if you don’t get a panic attack when opening your inbox after a week-long vacation. But it’s important to remember all the downsides and to not solely rely on email. Remember: you can never create “new” with “old”. Internal Communications channels have become so varied; it’s not just an email or a town hall anymore. Map out your IC-channel mix and decide which channel is best for what type of communication. Email has its place in there – just not everywhere.